The next time you tee it up with your semi-regular foursome, it’s a fair bet that, by the turn if not before, the conversation will turn to LIV. The thrust-and-parry between the PGA TOUR and LIV Golf continues unabated. Each week brings a new twist, turn, press conference or cast change. A LIV contingent acquitted themselves well in the shortened BMW PGA Championship in the UK this past weekend which, due to the death of Queen Elizabeth, was shortened to 54 holes. That was a DP World Tour event but, if the Tour holds true to its word, none of the LIV jumpers will be welcomed back.
Greg Norman and the Saudi backers of LIV are making their intentions clear. They will be—in fact, already are—a disruptive force in professional golf. And they have a bottomless well of money to remain so for the long haul.
So far, the talk has been about the sport of professional golf. There is another element to this story that’s a little closer to the game of golf that we play. And that’s the Saudis’ growing interest in recreational golf, golf tourism and the world of golf information and social media.
A story making the rounds several weeks ago painted a fascinating picture linking the Saudis with a high-powered golf PR firm in the UK. What made the story juicy was an additional connection to three of golf’s leading social media influencers. Our article today is the result of a detailed investigation by MyGolfSpy in an effort to put that story into its proper context.
Things, as the saying goes, aren’t always what they seem.
LIV, the Saudis and Performance54
Several weeks ago, thePNUK.com YouTube channel posted a series of videos detailing a spider’s web of connections between three high-profile YouTube golf content creators/influencers and Saudi business interests. The three YouTube/social media personalities named were Rick Shiels, Peter Finch and the Jazzy Golfer, all based in the UK. Everything in PNUK’s videos was public information and readily verifiable on the Gov.UK Companies House website. Despite that fact, all of the videos were taken down by YouTube following defamation complaints (you can watch an overview here).
At the center of the web is a company called Performance54.
Established in 2015, Performance54 is a high-powered golf-specific public relations, marketing and management firm. Performance54 is relatively unknown in the U.S. but has become a global golf mover and shaker. The company has offices throughout the Middle East and Asia and opened operations in North America this year.
The PNUK video claimed Saudi business interests now own a majority share of Performance54. Through publicly available records, MyGolfSpy was able to confirm that.
The Social Network
As mentioned, everything in the PNUK video is publicly verifiable and the video itself was substantively accurate. It did not, however, include a timeline or context. Without either, it would be easy to reach inaccurate—and potentially unfair—conclusions about the relationships between Shiels, Finch and the Jazzy Golfer and the Saudis.
MyGolfSpy verified that Performance54 does hold a minority ownership stake in Rick Shiels Media Limited, Peter Finch Golf Media LTD and The Jazzy Golfer. Shiels is YouTube’s most popular golf content creator with more than 2.2 million subscribers, Finch is ranked eighth and The Jazzy Golfer is 149th.
Shiels first signed with Performance54 as a client in 2016. At that time, Shiels was a rising YouTube star with more than 200,000 subscribers. Rick Shiels LTD was incorporated in June 2016. According to documents found in Companies House, Shiels held 670 of the 1,000 shares of that original company. The remaining 330 were owned by Performance54. Rick Shiels Media Limited was created a year and a half later. Its most recent confirmation statement, dated June 28, 2019, shows the same distribution of shares.
A Mutually Beneficial Partnership
It’s reasonable to presume the partnership agreement was a mutual show of faith by both parties. That faith proved prescient. Since joining forces with Performance54, Shiels has grown in both reach and reputation. His YouTube channel alone reportedly generates more than $2 million in revenue. The company’s balance sheet is also a public record on Companies House. It shows net assets increasing from $119,000 (converted from pounds sterling) in 2019 to more than $827,000 a year later.
MyGolfSpy also confirmed that Performance54 owns 40 percent of Peter Finch’s Finch Golf Media LTD (more than 500,000 YouTube subscribers) and 24.5 percent (not the 49 percent reported by thePNUK) of the Jazzy Golfer.
It’s important to note that all three of these business arrangements predate any changes in Performance54 ownership detailed later in this article. In response to a MyGolfSpy inquiry, Rick Shiels sent us the following statement:
“I have been in partnership with Performance54, a global sports marketing agency, since 2016. Since then, the team at Performance54 has supported various aspects of Rick Shiels Media, including commercial partnerships, business strategy and management, as well as supporting the delivery of some of my charity initiatives, including the YT Golf Day and Walk 150.”
Putting It All Into Context
We also reached out to Peter Finch and the Jazzy Golfer for a response. Here’s Finch’s statement:
“I’ve worked with P54 for the past seven years and we formalized this arrangement pre-pandemic in 2020 as a new business of which I am the majority shareholder with decision-making control. P54’s role within Finch Golf Media is primarily focused on commercial partnerships. The decision on which amazing partners my team and I work with is always based on whether they add value to those that watch and support the channels.
I have always placed the greatest value on editorial integrity of which P54 has always been supportive. The decision on what content is created and released on the channels is my own.
I am eternally grateful for the unwavering support from all my partners and the incredible global audience that follows my channels. We’re on an amazing journey and there is lots to be excited about in the years ahead.”
And we received this statement from the Jazzy Golfer:
“I started my career in golf in 2019 when I created my business and formed my partnership with Performance54.
Over the past three years, P54’s network, knowledge, experience and professionalism have been of great value to me. P54 has been a huge support of my mission to drive positive change across the sport, and in particular for Women and Juniors.
My strategic partnership with P54 has been focused on successfully developing commercial partnerships. I am the only ‘person with significant control’ over my business and therefore anything related to my business is not influenced, controlled or directed by anyone other than myself.”
As you can see, all three relationships predate the January 2021 takeover of Performance54 by Saudi interests.
In full disclosure, MyGolfSpy is owned 100 percent by Adam Beach.
Who Is Performance54?
As mentioned, Performance54 is a golf PR powerhouse headquartered in Reading, England. It was established in 2015 by Jed Moore and partners Matt Selby and Gary Davidson. Prominent clients include Titleist, FootJoy, Troon Golf, FlightScope, Faldo Enterprises, Spain’s Infinitum Golf Resort (with two Greg Norman-designed courses), Ireland’s Adare Manor (site of the 2026 Ryder Cup) and The Gary Player Invitational (a series of celebrity charity golf events).
Titleist confirmed Acushnet UK hired Performance54 for media, PR and media buying in 2016. Titleist told MyGolfSpy that Performance54 remains a media buying consultant for Acushnet operations in the UK and Europe but added that media and PR services will be brought in-house by the end of this year.
Performance54 director Gary Davidson responded via email to questions posed by MyGolfSpy for this article.
“P54 has worked all over the world since being incorporated in 2015, including throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe working directly with governments, destinations, events, brands and investors,” Davidson said.
Davidson said Performance54 was successful in a competitive bid process to work with the Saudi Golf Federation in 2018. “P54 supported the (Saudi Golf Federation’s) key pillar framework, in partnership with the Boston Consulting Group, that encompassed mass participation, tourism, developments, events, elite player programs and sustainability framework.”
Performance54 Ownership Changes
By 2020, Moore had brought more partners into Performance54. But in January of 2021, the entirety of the company’s shares was moved into a new corporation called Performance54 Group Limited (you can search the public records here). At the time of incorporation, Golf Saudi LLC was the sole shareholder. Majed Al Sorour, the chief executive of the Saudi Golf Federation, was listed as the only director.
The remainder of the board of directors was appointed a month later. Joining Al Sorour and the original Performance 54 shareholders were Abdullah Abduljabbar and Nesreen Othman Alzamil. In January of this year, Performance54 Group Limited issued a new Confirmation Statement. The new ownership structure shows a total of 10,001 shares. The Sanabil Private Equity Investments Company owns 5,001 shares. The remaining 5,000 shares are owned by Moore and his original team of partners. Interestingly, Golf Saudi LLC is listed as a stakeholder but holds no shares.
The new company’s first publicly available balance sheet for the year ending in April 2021 shows net assets of nearly $16 million. The final balance sheet for the original Performance54 showed just over $3.3 million in net assets.
Who Is Sanabil?
Sanabil Private Equity Investments is based in Saudi Arabia. According to its website, Sanabil invests up to $2 billion annually all over the globe. Abdullah Abduljabbar is listed on Sanabil’s website as CEO. Sanabil’s board chairman is Yasir Bin Othman Al-Rumayyan. A Harvard Business School graduate, Al-Rumayyan is also chairman of the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil company. As of this past May, Saudi Aramco passed Apple as the largest company on the planet with a net worth of nearly $330 billion. In its latest financial report, Saudi Aramco posted Q2 profits in excess of $48 billion.
Al-Rumayyan is also listed as chairman of Newcastle United, the English football club purchased by the Saudis last year for $409 million. Most importantly, Al-Rumayyan is governor of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. The Public Investment Fund is better known as PIF—the same PIF that funds the LIV Golf Tour.
How Did The Saudi Buy-In Happen?
Why did Sanabil want to buy into Performance54? Davidson says he can’t speak for Sanabil directly but the three-year relationship between Saudi Golf and Performance54 certainly played a role.
“P54 has been recognized as an innovative and pioneering golf and sports marketing agency,” he explains. “(It) was the first sports marketing agency to feature in the top 12 of the Sunday Times Fast-Track 100 which recognizes the fastest-growing privately held companies in the UK. I would suspect this strong business performance, coupled with our track record of delivery for our clients, was a factor.”
We did ask Davidson how Performance54 is able to reconcile working with the Saudis in light of human rights concerns in that country. Here is his reply, verbatim:
“As a golf agency, we believe wholeheartedly in the sport’s ability to have a long-lasting, positive impact on societies, communities, people and the environment. Through many of the initiatives we have been involved in with Golf Saudi, we have seen that positive impact touching real lives and are hopeful it will continue to grow for many years to come as Golf Saudi works towards its primary objective to develop a thriving golf industry within Saudi Arabia.”
For the record, here is a link to the most recent Amnesty International report on human rights in Saudi Arabia.
Performance54, Saudi Golf and the Americas
As mentioned, Performance54 handles PR for several Saudi golf initiatives. Golf and tourism are key components of Vision 2030, the Saudi government’s program to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and create jobs. The golf initiatives cited to us by Davidson include:
- Golf Saudi’s inclusion as a signatory of the UN Sport for Climate Framework
- A collaboration between Golf Saudi and the European Disabled Golf Association
- A program with the Ministry of Education and the Saudi Sports Schools Federation to include golf as part of the curriculum
- Creation of the Ladies First Club to provide free coaching, membership and equipment to women beginners in the Kingdom
- Creation of the “Let It Fly” campaign taking golf to inner cities in Saudi Arabia
- Support for over 20 golf course developments in the Kingdom, including designs by Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus
And then there is the Golf Saudi Summit, the three-day meeting featuring 350 business and national leaders from 24 countries. Its goal was to showcase golf’s growth in Saudi Arabia and how it connects to Vision 2030. Featured guests included Norman and Gary Player.
This year, Performance54 opened up shop in the U.S. John Kawaja, former Honma and TaylorMade executive, is CEO of Performance54-Americas.
Reason to the Rhyme
While the relationships between Shiels, Finch, The Jazzy Golfer and Performance54 all predate the Sanabil investment, they continue today. Acushnet’s relationship, and the others mentioned above, also predate Sanabil. They also continue.
LIV is the most blatant Saudi foray into international golf but, as we have seen, it’s certainly not the only one. Therefore, it’s fair to ask why the Saudis are so invested in golf. The answer is both simple and obvious: Golf and business go hand-in-hand.
Just last month, the Middle East-focused business website Zawya.com reported at least 49 deals to invest in Saudi Arabia were signed in Q2 of this year. Those deals are worth upwards of $925 million. There’s a $133-million agreement with Dubai’s DP World (yes, that DP World) to build a shipping logistics center at the Port of Jeddah. There’s also a $37-million investment by MasterCard in the Saudi e-commerce firm HyperPay. Additionally, Zawya.com reports the Red Sea Development Company signed deals in May with the Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt and Rosewood to develop luxury resorts. And Hilton and Radisson have announced plans to build nearly 80 hotels in the Kingdom.
As mentioned, Vision 2030 is designed to increasingly diversify the Saudi economy. Golf and tourism are important elements of that plan, hence the Saudi Golf Summit and the other Performance54-led initiatives.
First in a Series
As the LIV/PGA story continues to develop, MyGolfSpy will be providing unique looks into this fascinating and polarizing story. In future segments, we’ll delve deeper into the Public Investment Fund and why the Saudis are investing so heavily in golf. We’ll also talk with a legendary sports agent who shares how he would counsel a client on LIV.
In the meantime, it’s important to understand where your information is coming from. As always, it is our mission to deliver full and accurate information to our readers. Then it’s up to you to decide what’s important and what isn’t.
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